Architecture has a significant impact on the human psyche. Especially when the space you occupy is a prison. And while prisons are generally thought of as places to detain and punish lawbreakers, it’s our hope that the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility can do more. That it can transform inmates’ lives. Acknowledging that over half of prisoners in America’s corrections system suffer from abuse, trauma and mental illness, the County of San Diego and the Sheriff’s Department recognized that building a healing environment to promote well-being and prevent further psychological deterioration was imperative.

We created a solution that responded to their vision of a normal treatment environment that feels more like a campus community. We brought in a light color palette, soft and varied materials (including wood and glass), better acoustics, and ample natural light—all of which have been shown to reduce anger, stress, anxiety, sadness and depression. Unlike traditional prisons, where most services are housed centrally in enclosed environments with little natural light or outdoor space, this campus is divided into zones—administrative, communal, programmatic and housing—connected by a central quad or village green intended for recreation, akin to a typical university. Outdoor space encourages supervised interaction and the cafeteria exterior opens up to an outdoor pedestrian promenade and walking path. And just like in a higher education environment, the program activities and the spaces they occur in are designed to promote educational, vocational, personal and spiritual growth.